Covered Pergola Designs for Best Shade Ideas (Consumer Guide)

If you want shade you need to establish some type of a roof on top of your pergola. In other words, you’re looking for a covered pergola. Considering multiple types of materials that can be used and different construction options, we present these 8 shade ideas for covered pergola designs that are proven to work – climbing vines, retractable or fixed canopy, permanent corrugated roofing panels, decorative metal shade plates, shade sail and lattice panels, and even using top runners.

Each idea requires a different budget, and some are much less expensive than others. Also, all of them offer different looks. Just remember, what you put on top of your pergola will affect its look and by extension the look of your patio or backyard.

With some ideas, you'll have to build an appropriate structure to be able to fit a canopy or a sail, so you would need to plan your pergola design in advance.

With others, a shade option can be added later, over any pergola design and without any modifications.

1. Decorative Metal Shade Plates

Using shadows is an overlooked way to add uniqueness to your backyard!  Instead of purlins, these beautiful pieces sit right on top of rafters to add more depth to your space.

These stunning plates and panels will transform your pergola and the surrounding area. Both functional and beautiful these decorative pieces provide shade and a dramatic visual effect that is sure to impress you and your guests.

Often referred to as privacy panels, these playful decorations offer enough shade to stay comfortable while still allowing the sun to shine through. Check out this metal variety used in covered pergolas.

Create shade & cast gorgeous floral shadows onto your flooring at the same time with beautiful powder coated panels with a fun print.

Leaves are a classic pattern that compliment any outdoor design and will never go out of style.

For an even more dramatic effect install panels on the sides as well as above, to create an airy but private covered pergola.

Find this selection (above) and more at GazeboCreations. Available in Power Coated Steel, Power Coated Aluminum & Power Coated Stainless Steel.

Initially, yes, metal may be more costly, however the durability and sustainability will pay for itself in the years to come. (And of course, your pergola will be the envy of everyone you know.)

Metal shade plates can be installed over your existing pergola simply by screwing them to the rafters or posts. Larger size versions may require a helper.


  • Longevity
  • Good cover
  • Color retention


  • Weather resistant
  • Mechanical wear resistant
  • Artistic look shade & pergola itself


  • Can be quite expensive

These decorative tops (shown below) can last for years and people are thrilled with the results! Steel, in particular, is not only the most cost effective but will last a lifetime. If you live by the ocean, we suggest Stainless Steel as your best option. Source

The timeless leaf motif on this covered pergola (above) is a stylish feature in any backyard. Source.

2. Lattice Work

Lattice work is an inexpensive way to create your covered pergola.  We adore these three designs but you can find many other for the same price.

Lattice panels are made in vinyl or wood and are lightweight. It's quite simple to attach them to an existing pergola, allowing it to stay intact. Below are some inspirational ideas to get your creative juices flowing. 

You can find a variety of panels at any home improvement store, Home Depot or Lowe's - see examples below.

You will love the look of your pergola adorned in lattice work. To keep the common pergola structure, you can install lattice on top of purlins. Or you can leave the purlins out and install the panels right onto the rafters. In that case, you would need to cut panels to fit between purlins and locate rafters more closely to each other, which may require more rafters. The cover provided will keep you cool, even on the hottest days!

Though lattice panels will not block out direct sunlight completely, they will reduce the amount of sun significantly, which will regulate high temperatures.

Additionally, the lattice panels provide a surface for future vines to grow on, if you choose! 


  • Inexpensive
  • Good cover


  • Great looks
  • Low maintenance


  • Lower longevity
  • Higher mechanical wear

A covered pergola with lattice work (above) provides shade but still allows sunlight to come in. 

This covered pergola features a decorative lattice top and sides, perfect for privacy and growing vines!

3. Retractable Fabric Canopies

Retractable canopies offer a huge selection of shade options to suit traditional and modern covered pergolas. Some require more maintenance than others but whether you choose motorized or manual there is surely a canopy to cover your needs!

Canopy designs can come single or multi-track, and motorized or manually retractable. Let's take a quick look at a few types of canopy design options below.


  • Great convenience
  • Excellent cover
  • Great looks


  • Can be quite expensive
  • Can break - may require repairs by a dealer
  • May require installation by a contractor

Shown above is RainFlex by Structureworks, a motorized retractable canopy that provides whatever amount of sun or rain protection you need! All you have to do is push a button and this remote controlled pergola canopy retracts fully or partially, but always quietly into a chic aluminum cassette. It's a pre-fabricated covered pergola kit, so building your structure is effortless! It can be attached on top of any flat structure or to the underside for a more integrated look, and it looks great with pergolas of any material. With almost no upkeep needed, this durable design will provide shade for years for the whole family! Source

Remote controlled covered pergola

Here we see another ShadeFlex cover design, this time featuring a floating frame and motorized canopy. So simple, so modern, so gorgeous.  Source

Covered pergola with retractable canopy installed by Beechwood Landscape

This classic covered pergola (above) features a retractable canopy installed by Beechwood Landscape.

Trex covered pergola with Shade-Tree canopy
Manual retractable covered pergola

This covered pergola (shown above) has a manually retractable canopy which allows you to create multiple shade zones to suit your guests preferences. The retractable fabric canopy system installs easily and is offered in 20 standard sizes as well as custom options. Trex pergola kits are low maintenance and provide both shade and privacy. Add lighting, curtains, heaters or plants and watch as your home becomes the envy of the neighborhood!  Visit Structureworks Fabrication and Trex Pergola websites.

Covered pergola at HDTV dream home

This shade cover is created using stainless steel cables and can be made retractable. You can design an inexpensive one-of-a-kind low-maintenance covered structure to enjoy the outdoors. What a beautiful pergola idea! Source.

Canopy on top of pergola creates shade

Now all you need is a fully furnished lake front home to host this beautiful pergola! Head over to HGTV to tour this year’s (2018) dream home.

Above is a covered design by Brown Jordan Structures. It has a playful and tropical appeal and is available in both aluminum and fiberglass. Protruded fiberglass provides strength and multiple shade options. You can find more info here and here.

Above is a beautiful traditional covered pergola, 15-ft by 15-ft, from Infinity Canopy - Details.

Infinity Canopy offers endless versatility because of it's modular design. Open and close your canopy from any direction. It's a slide-on-wire system that is shipped ready to install out of the box, and you can adjust it to fit your pergola by adding or removing panels to change the length/width of your canopy. The three installation options are shown below.

4. Fixed Canopies

If you cannot retract it it's fixed. Fixed canopies are relatively easy to install. You simply buy a right size canvas and have it attached using wires and/or end weights. It's easier to install when your pergola has fewer rafters, placing it right over purlins. Otherwise, you would have to set up some type of a wire support system underneath the rafters, to rest your canvas upon it. The good part, this shade idea can save you on rafters vs. the lattice work. As long as you are able to stretch your canopy well, you can create a nice cover.

Enjoy your shaded space with this permanent cover design above. Image source.

This design features integrated pockets to accommodate the steel bars on both ends, which adds weight, ensuring everything stays in place!


  • Good cover
  • Cool looks
  • Very Inexpensive


  • Less convenient
  • Extensive wear over time
  • Can create pockets of water
Fixed fabric creates shade on this covered pergola

This simple pergola is the definition of chic. Fabric can be as little as four or five dollars a square foot assuming a reasonable quality outdoor fabric is used. A big box store is selling this solution on an arched roof pergola kit (the arched roof will make it more easily shed rain). Source 

5. Using a Sail in Covered Pergolas

One of the simplest ideas for a covered pergola is the Tensioned Canvas Sail (shown below). It offers full shade coverage that will keep you cool in the hot summer days - Source. Some are claimed to be able to withstand winds up to 160 MPH but we doubt it. In any case, we've been using it in CA, and it has worked great. It does take some re-tensioning, once in a while. And with two or three sails you can create a substantial shaded area which can be a life savior during hot summers.

This would be one of the least expensive ideas for covered pergolas. All you have to do is buy a good quality canvas sail. Plus your pergola design will cost less as it must be simplified to its basic rectangular framework. The main difference between a permanent canopy and a sail is that canopy requires an adjustment to your pergola rafters and a sail doesn’t. It simply stretched between the four corners or three points. To install a sail, you just need to build a basic pergola design – 4 posts and 4 rafters, that's it. The sail creates consistent shade through out the day!

To extend the life of the fabric, stainless steel cables should run the perimeter of the sail to reduce wind flap by evenly distributing tension. Go with the hardware that enables you to easily take it down in a windstorm. Talk about low maintenance! See more details.


  • Most inexpensive
  • Great cover
  • Works for Rain also


  • Will sag eventually
  • Could be difficult to control in high winds

Various sail installation hardware parts you could be using to setup and stretch your sail within the pergola frame.

For a bohemian look buy a shade cloth to drape as needed in your outdoor space. Colored fabric is good for form, heavy duty shade cloth is better for function. Image source.

See also: How to EASILY Install Shade Cloth GUIDE over a Patio, Pergola, Deck

6. Corrugated Plastic & Metal Panels

Your covered pergola is a living space just like any other part of your home, so why not get creative and think outside of the box with ideas like corrugated sheets of steel, polycarbonate or even PVC!

A pergola roof covered with clear plexiglass

Some corrugated sheets may require special hardware to install, so it's helpful to consider this in advance. Also remember, not all clear sheets provide great protection from the sun so when choosing materials for your pergola cover, pick material that is rated for sun control. Another thing to keep in mind is maintenance, some panels may show dirt which could be difficult to clean and takeaway from your design space. But overall corrugated sheets are a great way to protect from sun and rain, and are usually very affordable, with costs as low as two dollars per square foot.

Here's a few examples of Solar Control Silver Polycarbonate Corrugated Roofing Panel from Home Depot (shown above).

Corrugated Polycarbonate is considered one of the longest lasting materials for pergola roofing panels and depending on how much sunlight you want to have you can choose from clear all the way to very deep colors. 

Polycarbonate corrugated panels from Home Depot​ are installed using closure strips - watch this video on the installation.

solar control polycarbonate roof panel installation


  • Longevity
  • Best shade cover when not clear
  • Inexpensive


  • Poor aesthetics
  • May require to clean out debris
  • Dirt could be seen through

Shown above are two covered pergolas with semi-clear Polycarbonate roofing panels installed over top rafters.

Check out these Lowes corrugated steel panels and Lowes corrugated PVC roof panels (shown below). The leftovers can be used for smaller DIY projects like, for example, ​this planter or what looks like a rabbit coop.

Also, for DIY pergola projects, check these Corrugated PVC Sheets for DIY applications by Palram Americas.

Permanent pergola roofing made from corrugated steel (image above).

Looking for more shade or even rain & snow protection from your pergola? The ShadeRight fixed polycarbonate roof system (shown above) may become your ultimate choice. These fixed panels block 99.9% of UV A/B rays.

Polycarbonate covered pergola roof detail.

7. Climbing Vines

If you're considering growing vines to create a cover it's likely best to use them in pergolas built over walkways and driveways for decoration purposes only as it can be incredibly time consuming for the vines to grow enough to provide shade.

It sure looks beautiful but it hardly provides any shade. Time is everything when it comes to vines covered pergolas.

We found these 2 sources to be helpful for those who desires to plant and grow their own green shade. 
Best Pergola Plants & Climbing Plants for Pergolas.
Creating Shade With Vining Plants.


  • Climate dependent
  • Good cover but can be seasonal
  • Great looks


  • Takes time to create substantial cover
  • Must have adequate structure for vines to climb

With this long established landscape (above), climbing vines is all that is needed to enjoy a breakfast in the shade.

This arched covered pergola is getting there ... half is already shaded.

The overgrown plants atop this pergola have formed a natural green roof (see above).

The intentions are good here ... but the results are to be seen.

8. Using Top Runners To Achieve More Shade

To gain more shade, you could simply install more top purlins by positioning them closer to each other.

How you choose to space the top runners on your pergola is a totally up to you, just remember the further apart the runners are spaced, the less shade the pergola will provide. A good place to start is by spacing runners  3 inches apart to provide a bit of shade. The first runner is attached at the exact center of the arch, with additional runners placed at 3" intervals on each side.  This is the most shade that can be provided with the top runners, so if you're looking for more shade consider adding one of the other options we talked about above like a canopy or lattice top.


  • Less expensive
  • Great looks


  • Poor cover
About Joe Hats 176 Articles
Joe Hats is the founder of Joe has been remodeling homes since 1997 when he bought his first fixer-upper. He has built many pieces of indoor and outdoor furniture with his own hands and has every DIY woodworking tool in his possession. Coming from an engineering background, he has designed and built many patio fixture plans. Following his wife's lead, he is also very passionate about home decor and together they keep track of the latest trends. When he is not remodeling or trying a new woodworking tool, he is busy gardening or designing a new outdoor plan.